A few weeks ago I was reminded why I started gastrotraveling.com and why I continue working hard to write fresh content. After all, isn’t my tagline simple enough?: “A Better Understanding of Food Through Travel”
Well probably not. First of all, here’s what I’m not. I’m not a food critic, columnist, celebrity chef, or culinary expert in any way. What I am is a writer who is extremely interested in learning about the ever evolving way we interact with food and how it makes different cultures unique and interesting. Would it really be worth flying across the globe spending thousands of dollars only to be surrounded by people like you eating hamburgers and pizza?
This brings me to my experience on the road outside Boston covering trails for my upcoming hiking guidebook. My travels took me through the towns of Whittensville and Norwood. This being Massachusetts, these towns certainly had their share of historic character. But like many towns across the United States, they were also victims of strip, bigbox, and chain development on the main thoroughfares.
I was hungry for lunch in Whittensville and readily saw the usual fast food culprits. Here I was lucky. It took me 2 minutes to meet my match. Right on a 4-way intersection across from Burger King was New England Pizza…a truly generic name but a local Italian joint run by Greeks who certainly didn’t mess around with the calzones! The spinach, brocolli, and cheese were super fresh and as you can see abundant.
At the end of the day, I checked into my hotel right on Route 1 in Norwood. Room service was out of the question
and traveling alone, didn’t want the hassle of a sit down dining arrangement. I needed some good takeout. So I hopped in my car and scoured the boulevard. Took one look at Stop and Shop’s salad bar and immediately exited. Passed by Panera Bread, Bertucci’s, Taco Bell, TGI Friday’s…strip malls with chains ad nausem! No Mom and Pops to be found…a veritable wasteland until, wait, down on the bottom of a lit sign in front of a plaza I saw something. Sabb’s Market Mediterranean Food. I swung by, pulled through the lot, around a corner, and there it was. An oasis filled with activity. I walked inside and ended up buying 3 bags of groceries in addition to my bulging combination plate loaded with chicken and beef shawarma with rice, hummus, and assorted fresh veggies. My groceries included green almonds in the shell; 2 Fatayer B’Jibne , feta cheese pastries deep fried to a golden brown; and some flavorfully seasoned sesame sticks.
So if you’re like me and care about cultivating unique foodways and supporting local business, we have to go out of our way to explore them. Even in our hometowns we must “travel” a bit more. Take 5 extra minutes to get on the other side of the highway, wait an extra 10 minutes for the dish to be prepared from scratch, and in some cases pay a few dollars more for locally grown fresh or unique imported ingredients. The rewards are unforgetable flavors, culturally reflective dishes, and a personal connection with the cook who’s usually also working the counter. A far cry from heat lamps, supply chains, and supersize campaigns!
May we keep breaking bread and learning together. If there’s something you want me to examine in more depth, let me know. I’ll look into it for you and report on my findings.
photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky